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A Self-fulfilling Prophecy: Academic Performance and the Strong Effects on Students’ Educational Aspirations–How Can We Know What Students Know?

This blog is part 1 of 2. Watch for part 2 this Thursday, July 26, 2012.

David M. Chapinski

Does calling a school a ‘failing school’ make it one?  How about for the student?  There seems to be a fulfilling prophecy when you are labeled as an individual. I believe that if someone believes you are smart and successful, they are going to treat you that way. And if you are treated like you are smart and successful, then you’re more likely to behave that way. The same thing happens when you label someone a failure. This is not always fair to the student who decides to work at his/her own pace. Who is this student? Is it the student with minimal qualifications as a college seeking intern?  Or the student making the right decisions for the wrong reason that is at risk?

A key attribute of the policy element is the part that the state chooses to play to achieve its higher education policy priorities; though any given state may exhibit behaviors befitting more than “one role.”[i]  For example, a consumer advocacy state concentrates on supporting demand; a providing resource state can give great deference to institutional values and provides money to higher education without taking an active role in defining or ensuring that priorities are met; a regulating state controls price and proposes to define the relationship between institutions and the marketing; and the steering state focuses on policy outcomes and tries to structure the market to realize those outcomes.

Work processes are a primary component of the structural dimension of a higher education system and encompass day-to-day practices, activities, and procedures of managing and administering.  I believe that to perform effectively, educational systems should be designed to be compatible with their policy environments.  For example, a state that tries to regulate a constitutionally autonomous university system or segmented design may be unsuccessful because the design of that system opposes regulation.  It is relatively easy to influence the work process level in the short term, and the problem with this approach is that policymakers attempt change through this short ended framework.  Demographics I believe, also constrain one’s state revenue structure because it is so “sales dependent,”[ii] and not always will there be great population growth in the future so we should keep growth rate measures detached from one another especially if we want to match overall spending growth.

I believe that institutional variations in national educational systems should mediate the effects of interpersonal influences on students’ aspirations.  In countries with relatively open, undifferentiated secondary schooling, peers’ and parents’ attitudes toward academic performance should significantly influence adolescents’ attitudes and aspirations, net of other factors.  I believe that the college graduates are leaving the state upon graduation; in search for better jobs because the governor has a lot of information need to make decisions does not mean that information to give to students is always there.  In systems in which students are sorted into different educational paths at an early age, for example, those that are highly stratified and vocationally specific, students’ aspirations should be determined, in large part, by the type of school they attend, and attitudes of significant others should be subordinate, perhaps even irrelevant.  How is it that many people believe that the abilities required for success in the real world differ substantially from what is needed to achieve success in the classroom?  I believe that an important assumption of life’s course is the principle of agency:  Individuals construct their own life course through the choices and actions they take within the opportunities and constraints of history and social circumstance.  Planfully competent adolescents, who exhibited self-confidence, intellectual investment and dependability, made choices regarding school, work, and intimate partners that led them to have more satisfying and successful lives than their less planful peers.  They are more active in seeking out information about “future options;”[iii] more informed and realistic decisions yielding better fits between their interests, resources, and personalities and the rewards and challenges of their subsequent roles and social environments.

I believe that in the absence of school-based occupational training and institutional affinities between school and work, adolescent employment may also be considered a normative expression of vocational exploration and semi-autonomy.  Because most college students must work to meet their living expenses at least partially, teenage work can lay the foundation for the effective grouping of post-secondary student and work roles that facilitate future educational attainment.  If working youth have less time to devote to activities that promote achievement, then paid work would have a negative effect on educational outcomes. A fulfilling response is not that there would be no reason to change ones mission or governance structure because one is doing an excellent job of meeting current business needs.  I believe trying to come up with money in a way that would do the least harm to the higher educational system should not be the sole method of creating savings and reinvesting for a student’s future.

Beyond finding bleeding streams of money, many colleges and universities have displayed some or all of their results on the Web and there is still a long way to go.  And just when we think only some results can only influence revision of “Freshman Status,”[iv] the influence of a five-year satisfaction results feed directly into an issue getting a great deal of attention and concern at schools like Pace University in New York.  Here is a school that shows us that one of the most important changes proposed can be to have full-time faculty from each of the schools and the colleges teach a 101 course.  In the past, professional staff and long-time adjunct faculty taught certain seminars along with a handful of full-time faculty.  Now, student satisfaction results provide an additional evidence for an associate provost to convince deans and other full-time faculty that an assignment of full time faculty to a 101 would have significant impact on the first-year experience.  As an instructor of a seminar, for example, also serving as a student advisor helps a second change extend the advisory role of the faculty member from a one-semester to a year-long relationship with the student.  First-year student would then be assigned to seminar sections based upon their professional school or college selection.  As a result, first-year students would come into early contact with a full-time faculty member from their school or college in a meaningful advisory relationship.


[i] K Shephard.  Higher education for sustainability.  2007.

[ii] 1999 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

[iii] J Staff.  Educational and Work Strategies from Adolescence to Early Adulthood:  Consequences for Educational Attainment. 2007.

[iv] CollegeBoard. 2012.

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About David Chapinski

Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: Newark *2nd Year* School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) Adjunct Professor at: Felician College- Rutherford Campus Rutherford, NJ 07070 Long Island University- Rockland, Hudson Campuses Orangeburg, NY 10962 St. Francis College- Brooklyn Campus Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201 My research interests include studies of public economies: Multi-organizational, Multi-level Institutional and Risk Analysis. What, for example, might the organization and governance of more complex protected areas have in common with complex metropolitan areas like New York City, Washington D.C.

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